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Communications Security Establishment: Supporting Canada’s Cyber Spies

When the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) launched an organization-wide survey in 2016 to measure how it stacked-up against the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety, it attracted more respondents than any previous survey.

With such a resounding response from the CSE’s 2400 employees, participation alone made it clear employees cared about mental health. It was a signal for Operational Director Antony Simpson, the volunteer Executive Champion for the CSE’s Healthy Workplace initiative, that the CSE could make a real difference in the lives of CSE employees by building out current workplace mental health initiatives.

The CSE’s mandate is to provide cyber defense and advice to the Government of Canada. Its employees face unique challenges in an unconventional job by most standards which means it’s important that any mental health supports be informed by these same challenges and experiences. 

However, the CSE has a long track record of customizing mental health supports in their workplace. For over thirty years the CSE has offered an in-house Employee Assistance Program which includes counselling and advisory services. While some organizations contract out those services, the CSE has chosen to employ four professional counsellors who can more easily gain an understanding of CSE employees’ on-the-job stresses.

Results from the group’s 2016 survey allowed the CSE to build on and customize supports further by identifying how work areas, tenure, age, and gender differences are considerations in the context of creating a healthy workplace. 

“When we got the results of the survey, we were able to go to manager in different activity areas and give focused, tailored direction,” says Antony. “We could say, for example, in your area the number one issue that people want you to focus on is growth and development, whereas for another activity area it might have been people were more concerned about clear leadership and job expectations.” 

The results of the 2016 also sparked the formation of a Mental Health Working Group consisting of the Head of Labour Relations, Head of Occupational Health and Safety, Manager of the Counselling and Advisory Program, a Chief Ethics Office representative, and President of the local branch of the CSE’s Union.

“Having these different representatives share data and the atmospherics they see from their unique viewpoint is important and gives the working group critical information to identify the issues that are trending, what’s improving, and what they need to pay more attention to,” says Antony.

Senior leadership at the CSE now have the information and organizational structure needed to quickly and easily put mental health supports in place that address what employees are most concerned about. For example, a Young Professionals Network was created to offer a space for younger employees to discuss the unique challenges of emerging CSE professionals, allowing them to better integrate and adapt their skills to the rigorous style of cyber security work. 

Antony’s advice to his colleagues: “A healthy workplace is not a top-down policy decision or a directive. A healthy workplace is everybody’s responsibility – and opportunity.  Simply start by asking yourself: what are the things you can do on your own, in a small team with colleagues that could benefit the organization?”

An estimated 1 in 2 people in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area’s labour force have experienced a mental health issue. Ignite mental health support in your workplace by taking the MindsMatter Assessment today.